BIFF Reader’s Review: “Leto”


This film is about the life of Korean-Russian rocker Viktor Tsoi and the friendship with Mike and his wife, Natasha. Viktor builds his musical skills with the help of Mike, who provides him inspiration and supports his growth.

The band are from Russia, where punk is seen as a serious threat to the values of comradeship and socialist order. But that is not really the purpose of this film, as it deals more with the basic concerns of an aspiring rock band.

Lead singer Mike has the Johnny Rotten sneer down to a T, but the band are struggling to be taken seriously. He’s married with a kid and still living in an upstairs apartment where the band try to practice their songs (when they aren’t being shouted at by the neighbors).

Things change for them when they are approached by two younger musicians the beach after playing a concert. Viktor, a Korean-Russian (although his heritage is not really commented on) really likes the band and offers to join them.

It’s touching the way they play together and how the more experienced musicians help nurture Viktor’s talent.

As the band’s musical talent develops, they start to play better and with more focus, and Viktor adds a poetic dimension to their simplistic lyrics.

The film is shot in black and white and in color. The black and white photography recalls similar fictionalized accounts of musicians such as Control, which was about Ian Curtis and Joy Division.

The main problem I have with this film is that it doesn’t really add up to much. A few scenes show the raw power of punk, when a member of the audience exhorts everyone in their seats to stand up. But the rest of the film slows things down considerably.

It’s so freewheeling and loose, which I understand because life as a rock band is messy.

Mike has a baby with Natasha but he doesn’t spend all his time with her. There’s an attempt to create some drama when Natasha becomes attracted to Viktor, but it’s so underwhelming. It should be a big deal, but somehow it’s not.

The film is just a bit too long and some scenes are really boring. As an example, why do we need a scene where the band are in a recording studio talking about disco? And why do they never talk about their lives, or what inspires them to make music?

The best songs in the film are ones we already know: such classics as The Passenger, Psycho Killer, and A Perfect Day, to name just three. There’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration, but this film tries to include so many musical styles that it seems like a potted history of seventies and eighties music.

When it comes to films about rock stars, there are so many clichés that must be avoided. Or there are those films which go so far to show the reality of music that they become a parody, like Spinal Tap.

This film doesn’t really go that far, but it’s a bit stylized, too ideal. The best scenes are when the people on the street burst into performances of internally know punk songs, followed by the disclaimer “this never happened”. It’s a lament for the lack of freedom in a politically oppressive country. The message is, these songs are loved by everyone: rock music is the people’s politics.

It’s all perfectly well-played, but there are no great surprises.

Leto (Summer) is showing at BIFF.

Robert Cottingham
Robert Cottingham is an English teacher living in Busan. I love exploring people and places.

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